Combating COVID-19 With Compassion

Imagine the enormous responsibility of providing care to individuals whose health is compromised and who depend upon you to protect them from harm. Then, factor in the arrival of coronavirus, which puts everyone including you and your care team at risk. If only this were a hypothetical situation. As we know all too well, this is our new reality. Our dedicated health care professionals have emerged as the true superheroes, simultaneously battling the deadly virus while serving as beacons of hope.

A New Game Plan for Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice

In fewer than two weeks from the onset of COVID-19, the team at Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice had to rewrite its model for delivering care to its hospice, palliative and home health patients. Quarterbacking this effort was Senior Director of Clinical Services Keri Jaeger. Along with her team of 60 clinicians, Keri developed a new system to be responsive and protective. “Things changed overnight,” said Jaeger. “We had to be very proactive to ensure quality care while maintaining patient safety as our top priority, and without missing a beat.”

The team quickly distinguished patients who would continue to need skilled, hands-on care from those whom they could treat through telehealth channels. The team has embraced video and audio chats with patients, emailing follow-up care plans, and continuing to be available to answer patient questions in a timely, ongoing basis. To address the unique needs of hospice patients, Mount Evans team members have formed even closer partnerships with family caregivers. Many relatives have chosen to assume much greater responsibility for providing care to their loved ones. Mount Evans is by their side with ongoing consultation, direction and training, and is always on standby to provide relief or to resume primary caregiving.

Mount Evans also continues to offer support and resources for their nurses, therapists and aides on the front lines. Team members received updates each week regarding protocols from regulatory agencies and new approaches to care. Every morning, they participate in a virtual “huddle” to review patient referrals, discuss emerging issues, and even share a laugh or two, like when a team member appeared in personal protective equipment and a sombrero. 

Jaeger said that despite the stress of the pandemic, camaraderie is strong. “Our managers have been conducting more frequent and very intentional conversations with their staff to address questions, share best practices and provide an open forum for connection. Our very seasoned social services department has created Zoom support groups and opportunities for one-on-one check-ins for team members to help them cope with the inherent challenges they face.”

Jaeger shared that over the past six weeks of the pandemic, everyone at Mount Evans has been “all in.” She adds that they all look forward to shifting from their crisis game plan to focusing on new techniques and continuing to enhance care delivery—a game plan they’ve executed well for more than 40 years.

Elk Run Builds Resiliency by Creating Connections With Residents

The community at Elk Run Assisted Living considers itself fortunate. While their implementation of proactive, protective measures and a strict adherence to social distancing, sanitizing and public health guidelines provides no guarantee, there have been no COVID-19 cases or exhibited symptoms among the Elk Run residents or staff. According to Executive Director Dan Kipp, another key factor is promoting a positive environment where residents feel connected.

“In health care, we tend to focus on physical health,” said Kipp. “Early on in the COVID-19 situation, we realized the importance of focusing on our residents’ mental and social health to help them build and maintain resiliency.”

To lift the spirits of the residents whose family and friends cannot visit in person, the Elk Run team has assisted many with the use of Zoom technology. According to Kipp, this has been a powerful tool which has actually expanded connections among families, including relatives who live distances apart and have not spoken in years. It also served as the vehicle for a family reunion when a resident’s plan for a family ski trip in March was canceled due to the virus. In another instance, a resident with severe memory loss, who typically could not identify her son, suddenly had a sweet moment of recognition when his face appeared during a Zoom call.

To alleviate their isolation, Kipp has taken it upon himself to entertain the residents. A few times each week, he dons his mask and guitar and walks through the hallways, encouraging residents to stand in their doorways and participate in an old-fashioned singalong. He takes requests and ensures that social distancing is maintained. “Oh Susannah,” “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,” and “Amazing Grace” fill the corridors, bringing smiles and a sense of belonging among the residents.

Kipp also credits the local Evergreen community with making a positive difference at Elk Run. “There has been an outpouring of love from the community,” he said. “Out of the blue, we received donations of craft supplies, games, puzzles and iPads for our residents, and the other day, three dozen roses to distribute among our caregivers. Many parents have arranged for their children at home to visit by phone or Zoom with Elk Run residents as a mutually beneficial break in the day, adds Kipp. “In many ways, the terrible COVID-19 has brought out the best in people.”

Nurse Mary Pat Works Behind the Scenes to Fill in the Gaps

When asked what she’s been doing to help out during the COVID-19 crisis, Mary Pat humbly replied, “I’m just a backstage gal.” That may be her perspective, but if one person can make a difference by creating connections within a community, it’s nurse Mary Pat.

Whether collecting and delivering masks and other PPE to caretakers, making routine calls to nonprofits to see what supplies they need, helping with collection of food for youngsters, or meeting a donor in the parking lot to transport a case of Ensure to in-home care providers, Mary Pat plays a critical role in helping our community thrive. She has a particularly strong connection with Life Care Center of Evergreen.

“Life Care Center Of Evergreen treasures the partnership we have with Mary Pat and her students,” said Executive Director Amber Carlson. “Her servant leadership doesn’t stop there as she takes on many community service roles, and during COVID-19, even bringing a group to safely entertain our residents with a May Day dance on our lawn.”

While Mary Pat’s clinical rotations with her students took a back seat to the pandemic, I asked the teacher what lessons she’s learned through this challenging time. Her list includes:

  1. Prevention 
  2. Listen to science 
  3. History repeats itself (DeWald’s grandmother graduated nursing school in 1916 just two years ahead of the 1918 influenza pandemic) 
  4. Be kind and respect each other 
  5. Think about how to give love, joy and peace 
  6. Practice self-care so you can take care of others